The Surprise

by Barbara Evelyn

It was one day past the middle of March and there were predictions of up to six inches of snow and sleet in the immediate Tri-State area. Already there were calls to use mass transit to get about and sports casters were worrying about the start of the college basketball NCAA tournament. There were two teams from the area that had wangled berths against top seeds and there was not a lot of optimism about their chances. On the nightly news the stars of these teams were expressing delight about their entrance but were decidedly low-key about their chances. It was just like the hopeful stars on Oscar night who expressed satisfaction in being nominated even though they did not get the actual trophy.

Jason Gregory was a block away from his aunt’s house. He had been on his way home, more than five blocks in the other direction, when he remembered that his mom had asked him to pick up a package from his aunt’s after practice. The wind was biting eagerly at his ears and around his neck but thankfully he had found his ratty pair of gloves and had thrust his hands deep inside them to ward off the chill.

The furthest thing from Jason’s mind was running errands for his mother at this hour. He felt let down and disappointed that his mom of all people had forgotten his birthday. Not just any birthday, but his eighteenth birthday. He was almost a man. That meant he could vote! Jason felt the power of his youth rising in tandem with his fury at being forgotten and ignored. To Jason that was as significant a landmark in his young life as his twenty-first birthday would be. His mom was usually up on all things concerning him. How could this birthday slip by unnoticed? Jason felt alone and unloved. Not even his girl Isis seemed to have remembered. She had not even been waiting for him as she usually was after practice. And all attempts to reach her on her cell had proved futile. Jason was definitely not in a good mood.

The team members had all had something to do after practice and had scattered as soon as the coach had blown his final practice whistle. Not that he had anything against his aunt, Jason loved his mother’s sister almost as much as he loved his mom. She had been good to him before and since his dad’s death and she seemed to be in tune with him on all levels, but running over to her house on a Friday night when he should be celebrating his birthday with his family and friends was definitely not how he wanted to spend this milestone in his life.

He wondered if it would have been different if his father had not passed away two years earlier. His dad, though not the easiest of men to know, would have at least given him some cash for his birthday and said a few words of encouragement. Jason could clearly remember his sixteenth. His dad had been proud and had gotten him a set of games for his Play Station and a dozen CDs as well. It was a joyous affair because his mom had bought him a new outfit and sneakers and had made his favorite chocolate layered cake, and Isis and a couple of the guys from the team had dropped by to wish him happy birthday. It had been great especially after he broke open his games and proceeded to kick butt with his playing skill. He could rock that joystick better than most. His skill was phenomenal.

Glancing at his glowing Fossil watch, which had been a gift from Isis on his last birthday, he noted listlessly that it was approaching 7:30 p.m. and he had promised his mom that he would be home by 8:00 so that she could attend a meeting of some sort. He really hadn’t been paying attention. Jason picked up the pace and crossed the street that led to his aunt’s gray and pink stucco-faced house.

As he drew near to the side, he noticed a pile of dried leaves heaped against the wall. Once again Jason’s spirits plunged and leaning against the wall, he idly dragged the tip of his sneaker through the pile making a ragged furrow down the centre of the pile of dried and decaying leaves. It seemed an anomaly that almost at the beginning of spring there were still piles of dried leaves on the otherwise frozen ground. Jason felt a breeze tickling his cheeks and curving down his neckline. Gathering the front of his coat together he hunched his shoulders and pushed away from the wall to turn into the driveway of his aunt’s house.

There were two cars parked single file along the narrow drive. Glancing at the house, there was only faint light from the porch and a distant shaded light in one of the rooms upstairs. It seemed sleepy and silent even though it was just early evening. The daylight hours had been slowly lengthening and Jason thought briefly that he would be glad when winter was finally over and spring was really here.

Casually glancing at the number plates of the parked cars, Jason shuffled up the remainder of the way and standing one foot on the bottom and one on the top steps he leaned over and pressed the lit buzzer. Just as he drew his hands away, the door suddenly opened from the inside and Jason’s aunt grabbed his arm. Smiling widely, she pulled him unceremoniously into the totally darkened room. Blinking owlishly around and trying to adjust his vision to the darkness, he tightly closed then just as quickly opened his eyes once more as the lights snapped on and the room blazed with light. Several cheering and congratulatory voices chimed out in a general confusion of sounds and Jason heard, “Happy birthday!” screamed from the top of everyone’s lungs. There was much clapping and hugging and Jason, totally confused, tumbled onto his aunt’s sofa in surprise amid the hugs and pummels of his teammates and relatives and friends.

There were his mom and Isis and Elijah and Allison all in a group beaming and pointing in a “we got you” pose. Above the thoughts racing through his bewildered and pleased mind was, “They haven’t forgotten.” Over and over these thoughts raced through his mind. How could he have thought that his mom would forget his special day! She was as thoughtful and kind as anyone he knew. She was no pushover though. He had to keep up his grades and do his chores as well as practice. She was no slacker herself. Raising a healthy teen-ager and maintaining a home as well as a fulltime job took guts and skill and intelligence too. Jason was proud of his mom.

After all the shouts and jostling had died down, Jason stood up and thanked his mom with a hug and then he looked over at the diminutive figure of his aunt. He sure hadn’t gotten his height of 6 feet 7 inches from her side of the family! Then his eyes roamed to Isis, small and pretty as she grinned at him. “We’ll talk later, young lady!” he promised. Now he knew why she had been ignoring his calls all evening. He felt guilty about his angry thoughts. He high-fived each of his teammates and then in a hoarsely smiling voice declared, ”Let’s eat cake!”

The Surprise by Barbara Evelyn

© Copyright 2004. All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be duplicated or copied without the expressed written consent of the author.

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